In a light-hearted conversation taking me through his musical journey from childhood and his ‘spread love’ advocacy, the music star I’m speaking with is as laidback as they come. You can tell he is really comfortable with our conversation and doesn’t have the usual “superstar” persona shielding him from expressing himself, as he sometimes switches to pidgin to further explain a point, like a typical Nigerian would to a friend. Within minutes of our Skype interview, I come to realise that taking opportunities and making smart decisions might be the top reasons why we have the talent that is Joeboy.
While I tease him about having a sound knowledge of early Nigerian Afrobeats, Joeboy whose real name is Joseph Akinwale Akinfenwa-Donus, confirms his birth year, 1997, he mutters with acute assurance, “I’m sure I would win any music trivia competition if I was involved! Anything from as far back as 15 years ago.” Joseph grew up in a house filled with extended family members such as cousins, aunties and uncles. He recollects that there was always something fun to do and although there was guidance from his parents, there was so much freedom to experience life growing up.
His career has definitely gone through an organic albeit unplanned progression. As far back as when he was in primary school, he constantly accompanied his friend to the studio and he regularly met with big names in the Nigerian Music Industry such as I.D. Cabasa, 9ice and Reminisce, sometimes he went to shows with them and he slowly built an interest for the craft, never with the intent to follow it as a career path but purely of interest enough to just appreciate and admire the people talented enough to create. Whilst at the studio, he’ll try to freestyle and just goof around until one day, the Sound Engineer asked him to jump on a beat that led to him recording a demo, which according to him, is somewhere on the internet.
Still not so keen on making music his end goal, Joseph went about life as normal, going through formal education and pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources “I had no idea I was going to live some superstar life, so I definitely saw myself practising, if I wasn’t doing this, I’d have been a Human Resource Manager or a Personal Assistant.”
He had this mind-set that making music was for special people, however he still continued like every young boy, doing freestyles and writing music as a pastime, till his brother’s friend offered to pay for a studio session for him, at this point he decided to give it a go and started recording covers just for fun till he was discovered by Mr Eazi on Instagram. “I feel like there was a form of guidance towards music for me, I enjoy music, I love musicians but I never saw myself creating music officially. I always thought music was a thing for very special people and so, for me, I think life just kept nudging me in that direction.”
Upon meeting Mr Eazi, Joeboy was faced with a big decision which could have gone anyway and determined the journey of his career; with about only ₦10,000 sitting in his bank account, he got a direct message on Instagram from Mr Eazi proposing either $5,000 or helping him shoot a music video. “In retrospect, I think I made a good decision by asking him to shoot a video for me and asking him to feature on the song, that’s how faaji was created.” It was after this Mr Eazi told him of an initiative he was about to launch and advised him to look into it.
In 2018, Nigerian Musician, Mr Eazi launched emPawa Africa, a talent incubator programme committed to equipping emerging artistes with the tools, knowledge, network and investment to enable them become independent music superstars and entrepreneurs. With his mind finally set on going the music route, Joeboy applies for the programme, gets in and goes ahead to be the biggest breakout star from the first year of the initiative’s run! Launching his career into the industry with his hit single baby – which became an anthem throughout 2019 – and did really interesting numbers for an artist’s first single (on Youtube alone, it has a combination of over 50,000,000 views from both the visualizer and official video).
While showing great prospects with his first single, Joeboy released an EP, Love and Light, although behind-the-scenes he wasn’t as confident of the other songs doing as well as his initial release “for my song, beginning, I was going to stop it from coming out 3 days to release date, because I didn’t feel like I liked it. The only reason it came out was because baby was still a hit and so I felt, if beginning didn’t bang, the success of baby wouldn’t make it obvious.”, As if to prove him wrong, Love and Light has amassed over 410+ million streams across digital platforms.
For every musician, the next line of action after a huge breakout year is to promote their music, making sure it’s heard far and wide. Unfortunately, the global pandemic struck and Joeboy notes this as one of the most challenging periods of his career so far, “2020 was supposed to be my tour year, to visit France, South America and more. I love travelling and touring and I can’t do all of that as much as I would like. He further exclaims, “God needs to take CO-VID 19 away!”
When the world was first hit with the global pandemic, one could only imagine what creatives like Joeboy were going through, for many, a means of livelihood had been put on hold indefinitely and most importantly, how does one create at a time when everything seems bleak? Joeboy recollects having a creative block for over two weeks because he was stuck in a routine, but he overcame it, “I went to research on ways to come out of it and it was suggested to me to watch movies. So I watched movies, read novels and I tried to translate those into reality. Television series like Van Helsing and Big Mouth were some shows I drew inspiration from. They’re not about love, but they lightened my mood and I was in a better space to create.”
After having to re-record about 70% of his project due to a crashed hard drive and a long period of nitpicking, Joeboy has just released his debut album Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic (SBBM), a title given by his Sound Engineer, Oxygen Mix, to describe what love is. A 14-track album inspired by love, happiness and everything in between; it’s a feel-good body of work that touches subjects such as consent, unrequited love, requited love, thanksgiving and more. It is aimed at evoking happiness and spreading good vibes. After listening to the album, I’m propelled to ask if these songs are based off personal experience, if you’ve heard a Joeboy song, you’ll be able to tell how passionately he sings about romance and all that comes with it. He explains they are other people’s experiences and I remind him how as humans we sometimes live in denial; he then explains “I can be very empathetic, I know how to sing about people’s experiences in a way that it comes across as it’s personal [to me]. So when I sing a song about heartbreak Don’t Call Me Back, I’m asked who broke my heart, but in all honesty, it’s someone else’s experience I witnessed.” I probed some more on if he really has no personalised heartbreak/love song and he finally admits “maybe All For You”.
Joeboy’s favourite song off the SBBM album would be the first track Count Me Out, his reason? “The song is very personal to me, the production is very different.” And having listened to the track, I instantly agree with him, the production plays with chords and strings which transcend you to the renegade period, a similar feeling to listening to the Bridgerton adaptation of Ariana Grande’s thank you, next. The only problem is, the track is less than two minutes and so I ask a question every one of his fans are intrigued about since he began and he answers, “I never check the time or do it on purpose. I just make music and wherever it stops, that’s it. It’s possible I could make a one-minute song some time and you’ll enjoy it. It’s because the song is sweet that’s why they complain”. And that’s a true fact, we all agree on.
With Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic, he is very intentional about spreading love and great vibes around the world. When asked what he hopes to pass across with this project, he shares “happiness, self-confidence and not taking relationships with people for granted, if you love somebody, tell them, and stop trying to guard your feelings or think that by not expressing it, you are “woke”. Love is beautiful, express your feelings and stop forming ‘hard guy’! It doesn’t make you less [than]. I hope people get to experience happiness and the beauty of love.”
Joseph refers to himself as a certified lover boy and with his music you can almost tell that. He mentions a lot on how his major aim is to spread love and just to make music for people to fall in love with. It all comes together eventually as we speak on examples of love he has seen around him and his primary influence being his parents “one thing I found or still find cute about their relationship is when I was younger and my mum went to the market, my dad always went with her, they’d walk around holding hands and play like children, it was beautiful to see and it made me appreciate the whole idea.”
Although he is very much single, being in a relationship isn’t a priority right now, Joeboy is open to the idea of committing eventually and what is important is finding the right person, he further explains “Life can be very lonely sometimes and we need that one person that we can be vulnerable with.”
Finally accepting he was called to do music and he is considerably good at it, we touch on the probability of not being able to do music as he would like to. With an uncertainty such as the recent pandemic, did he think of branching out and what business path would he consider? “definitely, in life you always have to evolve, although music is my safe space. In the next few years, I might not be making music but I’ll be doing something related, maybe branch out into Tech or Agriculture. He also explains to some depth how volatile the music industry can be and how he is always in support of having a second plan. “Agriculture is something I’m really fascinated about, although it might come across as boring but it’s a lucrative field. Agriculture produces food and people never stop eating, food will remain relevant as long as humans still exist.”
Still on living in times where things are quite uncertain, he explains how he went through serious character development through 2020. The turnout of events has made him reflect and embrace being more relaxed in his approach to life “I have come to think that it’s important to have fun as much as you can, don’t overthink things and try to make people happy. I have come to realise that making people happy can also make you happy.” As of this present moment, he is definitely taking each day as it comes.
So what does Joseph do on a regular day, when he isn’t shooting musical videos or performing on stage? “I’m either making music in the studio or I’m playing video games and working out later at night. I’m pretty simple and straightforward; I’m never at the club except I’m paid to be there, I’d rather just hangout with friends or maybe a house party” he also enjoys watching movies on Netflix, or relaxing at the beach and enjoying the wonders of nature. Sounds pretty close to the Joeboy I had envisaged.
One thing you’re never going to catch Joeboy doing is wearing a crop top or trending on social media for the wrong things, he tells me how he’s always so cautious on the internet, “there are so many times I want to say something or post something, but I always have to stop and think of the implication because of the influence I have and how people could take things out of context”. He would rather just use his various platforms to spread happiness, love and light. No drama, just peace because the world has so much going on already.
He tells me how helping the people around him gives him joy and that could easily pass as his driving force. On days when he doesn’t feel motivated, he remembers the people counting on him and he gets the extra will to keep pushing. He’s looking forward to being able to buy anything his mum wants.
As we’re nearing the end of our one-on-one chat, I ask him how he is able to keep a level head through all of the success in such a short duration and he firmly asserts the benefits of not having ‘Yes-men’ around you. “I try to surround myself with genuine people, most of the people in my circle are people I’ve known way before the fame, these are people from 10 years or more back, and they know Joseph and they can be direct with me. He also notes that he hasn’t achieved what people haven’t yet and he still has a long way to go, so there’s really no point in acting larger than life. “They’re not the type to give dishonest opinions just so they don’t piss me off and I really value that.”
Joeboy’s album Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic is now available across all digital platforms. Listen here!
Photographer: Emmanuel Oyeleke |Make-Up: Laura Kanayo | Styling: Tosin Ogundadegbe
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